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Just Breathe, Okâwîmâwaskiy offers a unique performance experience on climate anxiety

By Julieanne Acosta, January 19 2022

In their upcoming immersive performance, dancers Sandra Lamouche and Melanie Kloetzel will lead the audience into and out of climate anxiety. 

Lamouche is a Nehiyaw Iskwew (Cree woman) from the Bigstone Cree Nation in Northern Alberta who completed a BA in Native American Studies at the University of Lethbridge. With over fifteen years of dancing experience, Lamouche is well-versed in a variety of different dance forms. 

Kloetzel is an associate professor at the University of Calgary and holds a PhD in Dance Studies in addition to an MFA in Dance, BA and an MA in History. In 1997, Kloetzel founded kloetzel&co and has since worked with many different artists to create dance works. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, the two talked more about their immersive performance and how their collaboration came to be. 

“I applied to do a one-minute film about climate change with [Melanie and Kevin] who lead TRAction, a climate action group for artists across Canada,” said Lamouche. “My film [showed] Mother Earth as an airplane and the stewardess of the land was there to instruct us on how to take care of the land. It played on the idea of an airline stewardess and how they do the safety demonstration.”

“[Her film] got deeply buried into my brain. I had this vision, from start to finish of this performance that would involve Sandra,” said Kloetzel. “I kind of just asked her if she would [work with me] and she said yes.” 

An immersive performance entails that the audience is actively involved rather than just watching. Kloetzel describes why the audience will benefit from this experience, though it may not be the traditional approach. 

“They’re coming to the theatre but they’re not coming in and sitting in the theatre seats in any kind of way that they would normally expect,” said Kloetzel. “They have to do physical movement to follow along with the performance. They’re asked to go quite internal because it is a piece about mindful issues around climate anxiety so they’re definitely asked to do a lot of reflection.” 

Lamouche and Kloetzel both talk about the importance of having deeper conversations about climate anxiety. 

“Making climate anxiety a real and important issue for people and helping people understand what that means, feels like and looks like,” said Lamouche. “Growing up, there was nobody who talked about mental health and so now we have mental health and climate change. The two colliding is something specific that needs more conversation.” 

“It’s really about the ironies around climate anxiety too and kind of digging into the ironies of [talking about climate anxiety] but not [addressing] the underlying problem,” continued Kloetzel. “Because we can create these kinds of band-aid fixes for things, but if we’re not going to address the real problems, it’s not very meaningful for us to talk to our students and our children about climate anxiety.”

Just Breathe, Okâwîmâwaskiy will run on January 20 and 21 at 7 p.m. at the University Theatre. Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. is now sold out. To purchase tickets, visit their website. To learn more about their performance, visit the University of Calgary website.

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